WORKERS ANXIOUS TO RETURN TO RUSSELL PLANTATION

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The troubled Solomons plantation was leading copra producer

By Moffat Mamu

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, April 29, 2008) - Solomon Islands National Union of Workers (SINUW) welcomes any move to restart operations of the Russell Islands Plantation Estate Limited (RIPEL).

Tony Kagovai told the Solomon Star yesterday that it has been the wish of the workers to see the operation back and running after four years of disruption.

He made the comments as government ordered RIPEL’s General Manager John Whiteside out of the country following the expiry of his work and residency permit last week.

[PIR editor’s note: Russell Islands Plantation Estate Ltd. was the leading producer of copra, coconut oil and cocoa in the Solomon Islands.]

However, Mr. Whiteside is challenging the case, which the court will hear on May 15.

According to the government, Whiteside is an obstacle to the resumption of the operation in Yandina.

The operation stopped when more than 2,000 workers of the company went on strike demanding the immediate removal of Whiteside few years ago.

Since then operation at Yandina and Lungga have ceased.

Mr. Kagovai said his office would not comment on government’s action against Whiteside but wanted justice to take its course.

"I think the government had realized how this matter has dragged on for sometime and they want to see a solution to it," he said.

But Kagovai warned that if a new company is coming in, the workers’ outstanding issues must be sorted out first.

Government wants to see operations in Yandina start in June this year. The government and RIPEL have been holding talks about the RIPEL issue in March.

However, Whiteside last week told the Solomon Star that he is yet to hear from the government after the March meeting.

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